THE PROFESSOR

Written by Robert Bailey

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung


THE PROFESSOR
Exhibit A
RRP: £9.25
Released: 6th February 2014
Pbk

Brian Clough may have been intelligent, but the men he mentored – Dave MacKay, Stuart Pearce et al – seem to have stuck to football after their playing days were over. Not so Thomas McMurtrie in Alabama, but then McMurtie played for the “Crimson Tide”, and football across the pond has a different meaning to the football we know. Football put McMurtrie through his university degree – the Crimson Tide is the football team of the University of Alabama – and that degree was in law. Some college footballers go on to play professionally, but instead McMurtrie became a professional, a lawyer, promising to be one of the best court room lawyers in the state. Then, as one of the few men who could talk to him, Coach Bryant asked him to return to his alma mater, to teach law; to set McMurtrie on the course that has forty years on turned him into “the professor”.

Things are not too good out there today: there is a recession and jobs are hard to find, truck drivers are willing to speed and cheat their tachographs; bad men have flourished; witnesses have been paid off; widows have failed to survive on waitress wages and turned to lap dancing; victims have suffered. And McMurtrie has found that the university wants him out about the same time he has started passing blood.He has been a widower for some years now, perhaps an old girl friend could help him but she does not know his situation when they meet: she is the mother of a family killed by a speeding tanker driver. She wants justice, McMurtrie just wants to rest. The best he can do is pass the papers to a former student now struggling for work as he retreats into the hands of his proctologist.

All things being equal, right should win. Unfortunately, those in the wrong prefer to bend the odds in their favour: it is not enough to employ the state's costliest and most successful lawyer; there is no reason why he should not be helped behind the scenes, with a little murder, strong-arming of witnesses, and destruction of documents. Which means that when the young enthusiastic lawyer who is pursuing the wrongful death suit comes into court he finds that he has witnesses who deny what is in their affidavits, when he has any witnesses at all.

Luckily, the case has taken time to come to court; time enough for McMurtrie's treatment to have taken hold. The Professor is returning to approach the bench! Before him stand another 150 pages of the book – we are in for back and forth before the Honorable Buford Cutler. Let us begin with  a “pre-trial motion in limine”, before we get to rebuttals, objections and party admissions, not to speak of “party admissions by opponents” across the well of court even while witnesses fail to appear, appear, documents are found and lawyers who can be bought find they have sold themselves for too little. Then, even when the professor has concluded his case, another one awaits his attention, but he will be going into that one with a partner, the young lawyer Rick Drake who has finally proved himself worthy to hang his shingle.

 

With its protagonist's name echoing that of Southern writer Larry McMurtry, Robert Bailey's first novel comes with plaudits from Winston Groom, who created Forrest Gump. It is a novel of the south, in which no one can thrive, hardly survive, without accepting some things, the most important for these graduates being not the University but its football team that made them. You have your own little bit of land to go back to, the family farm where you can be private, but inside you have been shaped. If you cannot accept that, not only will you not make first grade, you won't even make the pool. The 1992 film My Cousin Vinnie was an earlier work revolving around a troublesome road layout that it was also set in Alabama you may find hard to believe when you read about what has been going there since, in The Professor.

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